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October 2005 Issue
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Obituary - Professor Renfrey Burnard Potts

Professor Renfrey Burnard Potts 1925-2005

Professor Ren Potts was a very well known and popular graduate and member of the academic staff at the University of Adelaide. He was the 1948 Rhodes Scholar, and then Professor of Applied Mathematics from 1959 until his retirement in 1990. He served the University with distinction in many roles, including Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematical Sciences, and Chairman of the Education Committee.

Professor Potts was an internationally renowned applied mathematician. In particular, he was a pioneer in Operations Research, which concerns application of mathematics to business and commerce. He also contributed well-known research in diverse application areas such as mathematical physics, road traffic analysis and robotics. Generally his main interest was in using established mathematics to analyse and improve the way the real world works. He was also an outstanding theoretician who made new mathematical contributions to the theory of networks, of matrices, and of differential and difference equations. He published about 90 research papers, and supervised more than 20 PhD students.

He received many national honours, including an award of Officer of the Order of Australia in 1991. He was elected to the Australian Academy of Sciences in 1975 and to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1983, one of the few such double academicians. He was very active in ANZIAM, the Applied Division of the Australian Mathematical Society, and was awarded the first ANZIAM Medal in 1995.

Professor Potts' undergraduate lectures always were interesting, confident, and even amusing. The excitement of doing mathematics with actual relevance to the real world was the key, and he was best at conveying that excitement, even at early undergraduate levels. He was also often in demand as an after-dinner speaker at conferences, and his speeches were full of witty observations and jokes, some, but not all, with a mathematical flavour.

He was also well known socially in the University of Adelaide community. He was an enthusiast for sports of all kinds, and an Adelaide Crows football fan to the end. He participated (very competitively) in a University lunchtime running group for most of his academic life. Another great interest was classical music: he was a strong supporter of the Elder Conservatorium; played the clarinet well; and acted as a disc jockey for the University radio station after his retirement.

Contributed by Ernie Tuck

The School of Mathematical Sciences is holding an afternoon memorial seminar in honour of Professor Ren Potts, including brief talks by his colleagues and students, on Friday December 2 in Room G08 of the Mathematics Building.

This seminar will be preceded by a concert featuring the works of J.S. Bach (Professor Potts' favourite) in Elder Hall from 1.10pm to 2pm. All are welcome to either or both activities, and in particular the concert will be in the style of and at the time of the regular Elder Conservatorium Lunch Hour concerts, though not formally part of that series.

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Professor Renfrey Burnard Potts 1925-2005

Professor Renfrey Burnard Potts 1925-2005
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